Last week, I came across an article by Jamie Beckland on Mashable titled “The End of Demographics: How Marketers Are Going Deeper With Personal Data.” Given what we do here at User Insight, I was intrigued and read on. In the piece, Beckland notes that “marketers have built a temple that needs to be torn down.” The ‘temple’ that he’s referring to is demographics. As Beckland points out, demographics have been and continue to be used by marketers and business people in general to define the target consumer and to drive product innovation and marketing strategies. He begins his “down with demographics” argument by noting that the consumer population is more fragmented than ever before, making demographics even less effective. Many companies have started using psychographics instead to look at the mental model of the consumer in the context of a customer life cycle. He asserts, and I agree, that psychographics provide much more useful information about users.
Beckland highlights some great points and methodologies in his article and I believe that it’s a good thing that psychographic data is gaining steam while the value of demographic data is constantly being evaluated. Still, the techniques that Beckland mentions would be considered by most as quantitative methods to learn about consumers’ behaviors. Even measuring purchase intent by conducting semantic analysis on Facebook status updates, a technique used by GraphEffect among others, would be considered a quantitative method for evaluating more qualitative information. While useful, this should be paired with qualitative research. The reason being, and it’s something that Beckland missed in his piece, is that quantitative data will never provide you with an answer to the “why?” question. Using an example provided by Beckland, in utilizing social profile data, previously unimaginable questions are now answerable such as “Who is more likely to spend $100 on an order: a Seattle Seahawks fan or a Seattle Mariners fan?” While this information is certainly helpful, wouldn’t you still like to know why? If you understand why Seahawks fans like to spend, you may be able to create an even more attractive product that gets those fans to spend $150 or even convert more Seahawks fans into loyal customers through honed messaging that taps into their existing attitudes and motivations.
Quantitative research is good for understanding who is doing what and, in some instances, how consumers are using products. Psychographics provide more robust information about consumers, but the data still lends itself to guessing at the real solution to customers’ needs. The problem with these methods alone is that they cannot arrive at the answers as to why consumers exhibit the behaviors that they do. Qualitative research answers the “why?” question and gives you the ability to create messaging and product offerings that appeal to consumers on a deeper level. This allows you to hone your offerings to make them exactly right for your customer. Also, understanding why people behave the way they do provides you with the necessary information to more accurately predict future trends, innovate and leap-frog the competition rather than taking “me too” products to market.
Indeed, the level of insight provided by social data over typical demographic data is the difference between performing surgery with a scalpel versus a butter knife. Keeping with the analogy, insights gained via qualitative feedback from users allows you to trade in that scalpel for a laser. The utilization of these various techniques and data sets, paired with qualitative feedback, will provide marketers with a deep understanding of not only behaviors, but the “whys”, motivations and attitudes, as well as life cycle patterns. Now that’s a research mix that leads to smart business decisions and a competitive advantage!